Thursday, February 2, 2012

New study says one in three non-profit leaders addicted to meetings

A new mental health study conducted by the Snidely Centre for Non-Profits has found that as many as one in three of non-profit leaders in the US are addicted to meetings. The findings were reported in the today’s edition of the Journal of Fundraising Mental Health & Planned Giving.

“We were shocked by the findings of our study,” said lead researcher Dr. Dibble Brewer, from the University of Eastern West Virginia. “This has been a problem over the years for a number of industries, but to date no sector has had an addiction rate this high. There’s something about the non-profit sector that makes people want to meet with each other an unhealthy number of times.”

The study followed more than 1,000 non-profit leaders in 10 states for more than a three year period. Scientists measured the number of meetings each subject had and compared them to other groups that are equally valued by society, such as morticians and pig farmers. The number of daily meetings was then classified using standard mental health measurements, with two or less daily meetings being “normal”, three to ten meetings being “high” and ten or more meetings being “dangerous”. The results showed that a third of the test subjects had dangerous levels of daily meetings. Of those, a quarter had more than 20 daily meetings and ten percent had so many meetings that they couldn’t find time to eat or go to the bathroom.

“Meetings are important, but not when they become so addictive that it takes over your life,” said Dr. Brewer.

The Centres for Disease Control has reported a marked upswing in the number of Americans suffered from addictive meeting syndrome in the last three years. As many as one million workers may be suffering from the addiction.

Part of the problem, said Dr. Brewer, is that meeting addiction has few symptoms. People suffering from the condition may outwardly appear normal and healthy. It’s only in the final stages of the addiction that they break down.

“One of our test subjects was an executive director of a medium-sized non-profit in New Jersey. She started by having just one meeting when she took the job. A friend offered her one and she didn’t want to say no. But after that, she was hooked. She’d have more and more meetings. She finally had to be hospitalized when she demanded her staff meet with her around the clock. It’s a sad, but typical situation,” he said.

Elisabeth Darden used to be a non-profit leader like that. She was a manager at a health charity in Texas before becoming addicted to meetings.

“I was a social meeting user. I’d have a meeting with my friends. It was nothing. Then when I started working in the non-profit sector I felt this pressure to do more meetings. And then more and more. I would meet with people for hours. I’d keep the conversation going on and on with inane chitchat because I didn’t want it to stop. No one noticed. Not even me. Until it was too late,” she said.

Darden realized she needed help when she started having meetings to plan other meetings – what doctors call the “tipping point” in the addiction. She checked into an addiction centre. Three months later she emerged meeting-free. She married, then divorced, then re-married the movie-star actor she met in rehab and now lives happily with her seven dogs raising sheep in New Mexico. She calls herself “lucky to be alive.”

Dr. Brewer says more research needs to be done on meeting addiction in the non-profit sector. There are still many questions that have been left unanswered.

“We don’t know why non-profit leaders succumb so easily to this addition. Perhaps it’s a personality trait or a function of their job or it could be the fact that our society values the work of non-profits at pretty much zero. Whatever it is, we need to find out what the triggers are.”

Until then, Brewer says the best solution to meeting addiction is to “just say no”.

“When people you know come and offer to have a meeting with you, just politely say no and then tell a grown-up or other responsible person. If you have to work with others, do it by email, phone or by shouting across a large, open room while playing rap songs,” he advises.

The Snidely Centre for Non-Profits plans to release a new study next month on a similar problem – meeting and driving.